Cocaine users come in all shapes and sizes. They’re not all street druggies or people you see on the news. Your friend next door, a colleague at work, the college student who’s tutoring your teen, or your very own teenager could be using cocaine.

If you’re concerned that someone you know could be using the drug, think back on his or her behavior. Does he disappear into another room periodically and return in an especially elated or hyper-intense state? Has she lost her appetite and is having trouble sleeping? Does he or she always seem to have the sniffles? There are certainly other reasonable causes one could point to, but if they have all these symptoms then cocaine use is definitely one of them.

According to the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are an estimated 1.5 million cocaine users in the United States. While that number includes everyone over the age of twelve, adults aged 18 to 25 have a higher rate of use than any other group. Men are more likely to use the drug than women are, but women may be at risk of becoming addicted more readily than men.

It might surprise you to know that cocaine isn’t actually physically addicting, so you won’t see someone exhibiting visible withdrawal symptoms if he or she isn’t using at the moment. However, it is extremely psychologically addicting. It’s understandable that the high it gives most users is something they want to return to, and with prolonged use, cocaine use actually changes the brain’s chemistry and makes the craving stronger. Because the drug also constricts blood vessels and increases heart rate and blood pressure, it can have severe cardiovascular and neurological effects including heart attacks, seizures, and strokes.

As a parent, or someone who is questioning the behavior of another person in your life, here are the signs of cocaine use to be aware of:

If Someone Is Using Powder Cocaine

Powder cocaine is sniffed or snorted through the nose, so the most obvious sign would be traces of white powder on someone’s nose. You might also find a fine white powder residue left on a flat surface like a table or mirror, as well as razor blades or straws. The effects of powder cocaine last an hour or so, so the user may retreat periodically to use more. The following signs are also common:

  • Persistent runny nose
  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Constant scratching or complaints of itching
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chronically hoarse voice
  • Euphoria or manic behavior
  • Exceptional talkativeness or rapid speech
  • Aggressiveness
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping

After someone has been using cocaine for an extended period of time, you may also notice:

  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Exhaustion
  • Delusions
  • Difficulty functioning at day-to-day activities
  • Long periods of sleep

If Someone Is Using Crack Cocaine (Free-Basing)

Crack cocaine is smoked, and its array of paraphernalia includes small glass pipes and the tiny plastic bags the drug comes in. The effects of crack cocaine may last only ten or fifteen minutes, so someone may go off to smoke it frequently over a period of time. In addition to many of the behavioral signs of powder cocaine use, you may notice burns on a user’s lips and fingers.

If Someone Is Injecting Cocaine

Some people dissolve and inject cocaine, so the obvious signs would be discarded syringes and the spoons used in preparing the solution. You may also see needle track marks on a user’s arms or other parts of the body.

Why People Use Cocaine

Addicts might say that there’s a definite distinction between occasional recreational use and addictive abuse of cocaine. But the line is blurry and is not hard to cross. When something makes you feel good or even temporarily relieves you of thinking about your problems, it’s understandable that you crave doing it. And the more of the drug that you use, the less you can control your judgment and impulses.

In addition, because long-term use of cocaine causes significant neuroadaptations in the brain’s reward pathways, it is more and more difficult to resist it. Not only that, but many cocaine abusers use other drugs as well, which increases the risk for overdosing and for other serious health complications.

The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by 29 percent between 2001 and 2013. Any form of the drug’s use can result in absorbing toxic amounts, resulting in cardiac episodes that lead to sudden death.

If you need to talk with someone about his or her suspected drug abuse, approach it as an expression of concern rather than accusation. Rather than giving your judgment, offer support in seeking treatment.



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